One Year Ago Today . . .

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on June 12, 2010


June 12, 2009 was when Iranian officials stole the presidential election on behalf of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had the support of the country’s radical clerical rules–headed by Ali Khamene’i. A year later, Fouad Ajami reflects on what Iran has become:

In retrospect, it could be said that the first Islamic Republic (1979-2009) had fallen, and that a second republic, more cruel and unapologetic in its exercise of power, had risen. It wasn’t pretty that first republic, but it had pretensions to a measure of pluralism and it gave some sustenance to those in Europe and in American liberal circles who believed that the Iranian revolution was making its way to an accommodation with the international order of states.

In his seminal book “The Anatomy of Revolution,” historian Crane Brinton had sketched the progression of revolutions: their outbreak and early euphoria, the destruction of the moderates, and the triumph of the extremists as revolutions devour their own children. In the final phase, there is Thermidor—borrowed from the calendar of the French Revolution—where there is a slow return to less heroic times, and a period of convalescence. Iran was to defy that revolutionary calendar, and it now appears to have entered an apocalyptic phase; a darker night of despotism has settled upon the weary people of Iran.

A schism has opened in Iranian society: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s terrible children have turned on his garden-variety radical children. We can now see the hubris of cyber optimism, the naiveté of thinking that Twitter and Facebook and YouTube would topple a ruthless regime determined to maintain its grip on a restless nation. At the heart of it, this was and remains a brutal fight, a raw assertion of power. Facebook has no answer to the vigilantes of the Basij roaming the streets of Iran looking for prey. Twitter can’t overcome the Revolutionary Guard with the wealth and resources granted them by a command economy they have managed to organize to their own preference.

I am not sure that I buy Ajami’s argument that the current regime in Iran is less sweetness-and-light than the first incarnation (as Ajami portrays the 1979-2009 period of Islamic rule in Iran) was. But point taken; the brutality of the regime is certainly more manifest now than it was in the past. I disagree with Ajami’s argument that the pro-democracy movement in Iran is irrevocably damanged–many times during the events that led up to the Islamic Revolution, there were periods of quiet and calm in Iran; this did not mean that revolutionaries were not at work trying to overthrow the Pahlavi dynasty–but there can be little doubt that the regime feels free to continue to try to repress efforts to bring about a more democratic system of government in the country.

Of course, there might have been a way to prevent the regime from continuing to oppress Iranians:

To a large extent, the Green Movement is leaderless. The opposition presidential candidates it initially rallied behind are aging adherents of clerical rule who have little in common with Iran’s huge ranks of frustrated young people. Yet it seems likely that a victory by the opposition would mean a shift toward democracy and liberal reforms. The White House was slow to embrace the movement — so much so that protesters held up signs last year asking President Obama, “Are you with them or with us?” Lately, Mr. Obama has made some stronger statements, including one on Thursday that was delivered in his name by an aide before the National Endowment for Democracy, which gave its annual award to the Green Movement.

But as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pointed out in a powerful speech before the group also on Thursday, the president has hesitated to “unleash America’s full moral power to support the Iranian people.” Mr. Obama clings to the hope that the radical clique in Tehran will eventually agree to negotiate in good faith — “an assumption,” Mr. McCain noted, that “seems totally at odds with the character of this Iranian regime.”

Not enough has been made, of course, of the degree to which any deterioration in the power of the Green Movement can be directly attributed to the lack of overt, or covert support from the Obama Administration.

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